Christine Ha, MasterChef Winner and $250,000 Richer

MasterChef’s latest winner, Christine Ha, is the new American competitive cooking reality show, open to amateur and home chefs, for 2012 Season 3.

Christine Ha. Photo by FOX

On Monday’s Season 3 finale, Christine Ha beat out Josh Marks to win the title of MasterChef, a cookbook deal and a $250,000 grand prize. It’s an inspiring feat, not only because Christine is blind as a result of a rare autoimmune disease, but also because not too long ago, she knew nothing about cooking. The MasterChef winner, Christine Ha, is the show’s first blind contestant ever.

Check out what else Christine has to say about the competition, the ingredient that will haunt her and what’s next for her culinary future:

Ha: Something I learned cooking at MasterChef is that you really have to balance all of the flavors together. [With] everything you cook, there’s a balance of bitterness, sweetness, saltiness, umami, spiciness. Before I came on the show, one thing that I was often missing was acidity. Being on the show I learned that helps. If a dish feels too heavy, if it’s too buttery or too oily, usually something acidic, whether it’s vinegar or lemon or lime, helps brighten up the dish and rounds it out well. With fried chicken I know that that’s something that can be heavy. I thought maybe I could add acidity to it to kind of bring it up to the next level. I decided when you zest it, it has a different flavor than if you just actually squeeze the juice in. So, I just kind of marinated it in that and then added a little bit at the end.

Will that be something we’ll be seeing in your cookbook or anything else from the show? Are there other menu items from the show that we might see?

Ha:  Yes. In the Master Chef Ultimate Cookbook for Season 3, which is going to be on sale this month, I heard that that fried chicken recipe will be in there. I think my catfish from my audition will be in there. I believe maybe the last mystery box I won with the stir fry noodles and seared scallops might be in there. [And] the crab cocktail. Those things will also be in my personal cookbook.

Is there a concept for your personal cookbook?

Ha:  Because I’m a writer as well, I definitely want to have my input in that cookbook. So, I’m hoping to make it sort of semi-memoir-ish. It would probably have me writing about my journey with food and just a little bit about why I love food so much and what brought me to cooking. I think that’ll probably be alongside the recipes. I might write about each recipe. But I definitely know that I want it to also reflect upon my personal journey with food.

Is there anything beyond cookbooks that you wanted to do with your food now? Is there something around Houston?

Ha:  I actually would love to partner up with people who know the restaurant industry, find investors. I would love to open a gastropub and design the menu and have a lot of input in the ambiance of it and then just have a rotating menu like every month according to what’s in season or what inspires me. Then design that menu and have good craft beers on tap. It’s a place that I would like to go to and hang out with my friends. That’s an ultimate dream, but I know that’s a huge commitment. Something a little bit on the smaller scale would be to create an ice cream business. Before I went on the show I was already experimenting with creative ice cream flavors. … That was something I wanted to kind of start up just using all natural organic local ingredients and making crazy flavors that you wouldn’t normally expect.

What for you is comfort food?

Ha:  Comfort food is when you eat something and it evokes a certain positive emotion. With Indian food, I always judge a place by their chicken tikka masala because that’s a dish that I can make well. With Vietnamese food, there’s so much, but the first thing that comes to mind is obviously pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. Italian, I love old fashioned pasta with a red sauce and some vegetables. And of course pizza.

What’s the funniest reaction that you’ve had from a fan?

Ha: I’m always afraid to go to the grocery store now and pick out things to put in my cart because I know that if someone recognizes me they’re definitely going to look in my cart. Sometimes I have five gallons of ice cream in my cart. So, I think about those things. There’s been people who meet me at the grocery store and they want to take a picture and their hands are shaking because they’re so starstruck. It’s kind of a surreal feeling because I didn’t get into the cooking thing to become famous. So, it’s a weird feeling to have people recognize me and call out my name and I don’t know who they are and they’re starstruck. It’s definitely endearing, but it’s a weird, bizarre feeling as well.